Nearly every summer camp is busy offering some type of virtual programming.  Virtual camping both engages children who would otherwise be swimming and making s’mores in person (but can’t due to Covid 19), and provides their parents with some respite and comfort, knowing their children are doing something wholesome and meaningful. 

In our 10 Ramah overnight summer camps, children with disabilities are ordinarily included in person at camp, through our Tikvah camping programs and through the support of inclusion staff.    This summer, campers with disabilities participate side by side—virtually—with campers from all divisions in camp. They cook, sing, dance, do yoga and more together.

There is one group of young adults with disabilities whose needs were not being met.  Parents were telling us that their children in their late teens and early 20s, who ordinarily participate in vocational training programs, were missing out.  They are used to spending their summer learning job skills, practicing soft skills at a job site, and socializing with their peers.  We therefore “got to work” and began offering a 12 session virtual vocational training and socializing program. 

Tuesday sessions address such topics as:  setting goals, giving back to our communities, mental & physical wellness, professionalism, managing money, resumes & interviews and self-advocacy. Thursday sessions feature a hands on activity and a voc ed alum sharing about his or her path from Tikvah to employment.

Last week, while interviewing Ramah Wisconsin alum, Austin, we learned what it truly means to be essential.  Austin was telling the 40 participants about his path from his Ramah camping and vocational training program, to having a job in his home community.  He shared with the group that he is employed by a hospital in St. Louis, where he delivers food trays to patient rooms and cleans them up afterwards.  He proudly told the group, “I am an essential worker!”

Tiffany then proudly exclaimed, “I am an essential worker, too!’  She told the group how she continues to bag groceries at her local supermarket in California and has been throughout the Covid crisis.  

Another alum of our Ramah New England Tikvah Program, Jeremy, also works in a hospital and hasn’t missed a day of work since the Covid crisis started.  He works in the supply room at the Washington, DC area hospital.  He prefers to keep his beard a certain length, but has had to “go shorter” for his mask to work properly.

This Covid crisis has given all of us an opportunity to ask “who is truly essential?”  We know that doctors and nurses and hospital workers are essential.  We also know that anybody who helps us get food and supplies is essential.  I am so proud that some of our alum, who happen to have disabilities, are performing such essential work.  I have no doubt it is appreciated!

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I imagine a day when we will show children pictures of a bar mitzvah from 2019 or earlier—and they will stare in confusion at a large group of people at the bima of a synagogue on the occasion of a bar or bat mitzvah.  They will see a torah reader, people having an Aliyah, perhaps the gabbis and family members—and they will be shocked at the large group of people assembled.  After all, there is no social distancing (and no masks).  We will patiently explain that, “in the old days,” that’s what a torah aliyah looked like.

Similarly, we will explain that on Simchat Torah, large groups of kids—and some tall men—came up to the bima and gathered under a tallis for a blessing for “Kol HaNearim.”   They will have no memory of this custom either, for Judaism has evolved, and we now have aliyahs from seats, and the blessing for the children from their seats as well. 

This is what happens—changes occur over time to reflect new realities.  And once they are in place for long enough, we forget how it used to be.

We are seeing the same thing in Major League Baseball.   Once upon a time, American League pitchers came up to bat.  If you were born anywhere after 1973 and root for an American League team, you have no memory of that.  You only remember the DH.  The American League adopted the designated hitter rule in 1973.  American League pitchers don’t bat except when they play in National League ballparks

All that will change with the start of the proposed 60-game regular season anticipated to begin on July 23 and 24. As part of its health and safety protocols, MLB will be instituting a number of rule changes.

 

-This season, both leagues will use the DH to avoid overtaxing pitchers by having them hit.

-There will be a “three-batter minimum” rule, requiring pitchers to face at least three batters or pitch to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for injuries and illnesses.

-And perhaps most interesting—and controversial—extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. During the regular season, every half-inning after the ninth will begin with a runner on second base. If that runner scores, the pitcher won't be charged with an earned run.

The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning will be the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter, or a pinch-runner. However, if the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter is the pitcher, the runner placed on second base may be the player preceding the pitcher in the batting order. This rule will not be in place for the postseason.  Baseball stats keepers can quantify just how many games per season go overtime—and just how long fans sit and sit:  Over the past five years, 8.26% of all regular-season games have gone to extra innings. There were 208 extra-innings games in the 2019 regular season, counting for 8.56% of all games.]

There are more changes planned:

-If weather forces a game to be cut short before it is official, it will be continued at a later date rather than started from scratch.

-Players and managers will be expected to maintain physical distance from all umpires and opposing players on the playing field whenever possible. Players or managers who leave their position to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in an altercation on the field will be subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including a fine and a suspension.   My whole childhood, I watched Oriole’s manager, Earl Weaver, get in the face of umpires, just “begging” them to eject him!

-Pitchers will be permitted to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture in lieu of licking their fingers. Pitchers will not be able to access the rag while on the rubber, and they must clearly wipe the fingers of their pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the rubber. Water is the only substance that will be allowed on the rag.

 

What do we learn from new procedures in synagogues and in the MLB? We learn that new realities lead to evolving and changing rules—and they just may help “the game” in the short and long run.  In the Jewish world, we have seen aliyahs from seats, Kabbalat Shabbat on Zoom before Shabbat start, Hallel on rosh chodesh over Zoom.  Some synagogues read the Book of Ruth, traditionally read on Shavuot, a day early, over Zoom.  And even Yizkor before the holiday starts.  Who knows what Tisha B’av and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will look like? New realities are opportunities to innovate.

MLB is clearly taking these measures to get some baseball in this year.  And they are doing it in a way they hope will maximize safety—and speed.  We may just find that they help the game going forward.

Best of luck to MLB and the Jewish religion as we confront new realities—and new opportunities to innovate.

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No one disputes that we are living in challenging times.   And there are tremendous challenges which Covid-19 has posed for the Jewish community.  This is also a time of tremendous innovation.

For each challenge below, there has been a “virtual” innovation.  A few examples:

-life cycle events now include only immediate family (when permitted) and most guests “attend” Zoom brisses, baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, weddings, funerals and shivas

-Jewish studies classes for all ages—from Hebrew School to adult education—no longer meet in person—they have lost the “in person face-to-face touch” but have increased attendance as they transitioned to Zoom

-Minyanim (prayer services with a quorum) are no longer in person, though we are slowly easy back to outdoor or small group, by pre-reservation.  However, Zoom has made it possible for people to say kaddish with a community, and attend seders with family members thousands of miles away.

-Nearly every Jewish summer camp is cancelled—and virtual summer camping is taking off.  Campers (and sometimes family members) attend Kabbalat Shabbbat, Havdalah, color war/Maccabiah, dancing, singing, challah baking and more.

The Jewish community is wondering what the “new normal” will look like down the road.  What will life cycle events, Jewish education and synagogues look like?  Here and now, synagogue leaders are considering dozens of scenarios for what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will look like—practically and financially.  What will synagogues do on the three days a year when the entire (dues paying) community is unable to come together?  Will members tune in from home?  Pray in small indoor spaces?  Pray in the parking lot outdoors, weather permitting?  Take a family walk in the park? Have a shofar blower walk the streets so all can fulfill this mitzvah?

While this is an unsettling period, I am confident we will find ways to innovate.  We have been doing that for all of Jewish history.  Read about Yohanan ben Zakkai, and some of his important enactments. We transitioned from a Temple-based religion, to one that thrives all around the world without a central temple.  We transitioned from karbanot (sacrifices) to prayer.  We are in transition. 

This is a wonderful opportunity to reconsider how we do things in the Jewish world.  Do services need to last 3-1/2 hours on Shabbat mornings?  Might some students benefit from Jewish studies instruction partially online? (I am finding many students do very well with 30 minute Jewish Studies and b’nai mitzvah lessons on FaceTime).    

Some wonderful “adjustments” have been happening naturally.  To respect social distancing, I have heard of shuls meeting in person—outside, or inside with space markers on the floor.  And, when it gets to the torah reading, no one ascends the bima.   Imagine that?!  There are two options: the torah reader says the blessing before and after all the aliyahs, or the honoree says the blessing from his or her spot.  Imagine how beneficial that would be at all times for some older people, or others with mobility issues. Maybe there are halachic ways to better use technology for everyone’s benefit. 

As the saying goes, where there is a rabbinic will, there is a halachic way.  I hope these tough times will continue to lead us to innovate.  

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This morning started like any other minor fast day—waking up in the dark (3:45 am!) to drink coffee, hydrate and have some food.   Today is the not-so-well-known Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, and the start of The Three Weeks, which will end with Tisha B’av on July 30th.

Today is also a reminder of how important Jewish summer camp is in the lives of Jewish children and young adults.  Jews who do know about these holidays no doubt know about them from summer camp.  These are not holidays students learn much about in Hebrew school as they occur during the summer, when Hebrew school is on break.  Not only do people who attend Jewish summer camps know about these holidays they experience them.

Observances of these special days vary from camp to camp and person to person.   In more traditional camps, there is no swimming, live music or eating of meat (except on Shabbat) during the 9 days of Av.  Camps tend to make a siyum, the completion of a study of a Jewish holy book at some point during the 9 days, as this permits the eating of meat for one meal.  The camp wide learning and experiencing of the siyum has potential to be a wonderful educational opportunity.

Tisha B’Av is very memorable to anyone who has ever attended an overnight camp.  Who doesn’t remember sitting in a circle as a bunk, outside in the dark, with a candle illuminating Eicha (Lamentations) books, as readers sing or read the traditional biblical text in low voices?  

Tisha B’av usually means cancelation of such activities as swimming and boating and climbing.  Some post b’nai mitzvah campers fast so competitive basketball, soccer, tennis and softball are also out. They are usually replaced by special programming about the destruction of the Temples and expulsions from various countries throughout history.  Some camps run simulations, stations, walks through periods of Jewish history.  

As the day ends, there is a shift toward thinking about rebuilding.  The mood begins to shift at mincha, when we put on tallit and tefillin—which were “skipped” during the morning service. 

Many campers have memories of Israeli mishlachat (delegation) members planning a special program on the lake at the end of Tisha B’av, which somehow meaningfully involved lighting rope which formed a word or phrase in Hebrew letters for all to see.  We then break our fast when it gets dark, after 9 pm.

Tisha B’av is a little easier to relate to than the 17th of Tammuz as we have rituals and read a book of the bible on Tisha B’av. The 17th of Tammuz, which marks the start of “The Three Weeks,” is a bit harder.  It is not well known at all.

And it is especially hard to mark when at home, away from a community.

One way to mark the day is by learning what it is about in the first place:

In the Mishna Taanit (4:6), we learn:

חֲמִשָּׁה דְבָרִים אֵרְעוּ אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּשִׁבְעָה עָשָׂר בְּתַמּוּז וַחֲמִשָּׁה בְּתִשְׁעָה בְאָב. בְּשִׁבְעָה עָשָׂר בְּתַמּוּז נִשְׁתַּבְּרוּ הַלּוּחוֹת, וּבָטַל הַתָּמִיד, וְהֻבְקְעָה הָעִיר, וְשָׂרַף אַפּוֹסְטֹמוֹס אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, וְהֶעֱמִיד צֶלֶם בַּהֵיכָל. בְּתִשְׁעָה בְאָב נִגְזַר עַל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁלֹּא יִכָּנְסוּ לָאָרֶץ, וְחָרַב הַבַּיִת בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה וּבַשְּׁנִיָּה, וְנִלְכְּדָה בֵיתָר, וְנֶחְרְשָׁה הָעִיר. מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב, מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה:

 

There were five events that happened to our ancestors on the seventeenth of Tammuz and five on the ninth of Av. On the seventeenth of Tammuz: The tablets were shattered; The tamid (daily) offering was cancelled; The [walls] of the city were breached; And Apostomos burned the Torah, and placed an idol in the Temple. On the ninth of Av It was decreed that our ancestors should not enter the land, The Temple was destroyed the first and the second time, Betar was captured, And the city was plowed up. When Av enters, they limit their rejoicing.

So what should a person stuck at home, likely indoors due to Covid and 90 plus degree weather, do today?   We can reflect on the above text, and consider the importance of the temple in Jerusalem.  We are taught in the Jerusalem Talmud that the walls of both temples were breached on that day.  But that is admittedly a pretty abstract and far off for most kids. 

Perhaps children can better relate to the famous biblical story of Moses, the tablets, and the Golden Calf.  Consider reading this story today.  It is at the same time a well-known story child can understand, and it is also a complex story. 

The Seventeenth of Tammuz occurs forty days after the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Moses ascended Mount Sinai on Shavuot and remained there for forty days. The Children of Israel made the Golden Calf on the afternoon of the sixteenth of Tammuz when it seemed that Moses was not coming down when promised.  There are questions about the exact counting of the days, but Moses descended the next day (which was forty days, by his count).  He saw that the Israelites had constructed the Golden Calf—in violation of the laws Moses received from God, and he smashed the tablets.

The rabbis offer various views on what exactly happened. May focus on Moses’ anger.  Here is a useful article exploring these various views.

This 17th of Tammuz, many children are feeling sad and maybe even a bit angry that camp is not taking place.  It may be a nice time to unpack the Moses story and discuss what we do with our anger.   How can we use our anger productively?  Remember that Moses got a second chance and a “redo” when he got a 2nd set of tablet—but this time he had to do the writing!

May we all have an easy fast and a meaningful Three Weeks.


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